Following domestic and international pressure to ban child marriages Saudi Arabia is studying a new law to set a minimum age of 18 for marriage, a report said on Wednesday.
Following a Saudi judge's refusal last week to give a divorce to an eight-year-old girl sold into marriage by her father, the consultative Shura Council is considering changes to the law, including the proposed minimum marriage age, the Al-Riyadh newspaper reported.
Shura Council member Mohammed al-Guwaihes, who serves on its Islamic affairs committee, told the newspaper that both his committee and the social affairs committee were independently studying the problem.
Guwaihes said it was important to draw up a law setting a minimum marriage age.
The judge in the city of Onaiza drew criticism in the Saudi media and international expressions of concern when he upheld his earlier rejection of a petition to annul the marriage of the eight-year-old.
The girl's mother has been seeking a divorce her husband after he secretly sold her daughter into marriage to a man about 50 years her senior.
According to reports, an appeals court had sent the case back to the judge to reconsider his original ruling, only to see him uphold it.
The original verdict allowed that the girl be able to seek a divorce herself when she attains puberty.
The case has drawn criticism from UN agencies as well as human rights organisations.
The UN Children's Fund executive director Anne Veneman said that UNICEF was "deeply concerned" about reports that the Saudi judge refused for a second time to annul the girl's marriage.
"Irrespective of circumstances or the legal framework, the marriage of a child is a violation of that child?s rights," Veneman said in a statement on April 14.
"UNICEF joins many in voicing concern that child marriage contravenes accepted international standards of human rights," she added.
"It can also have long-term detrimental effect on the child's emotional, physical and psychological welfare."